I'm not heading out on any vacation right now, but I could use one. So instead of going somewhere, I thought I'd revisit one of my favorite European bookcations (it's like book+vacation. Did it work?). Let's go to France and spend A Year in the Merde.
I was already a big fan of Peter Mayle when I stumbled onto Stephen Clarke. Peter Mayle was an ad guy in London who decided to head to Provence for awhile. He found himself buying a house, redecorating, dealing with colorful local citizens, eating the most amazing food, and writing a book. A Year in Provence was his first book set in France, but it was far from his last. He's written memoirs, novels, and non-fiction all about his second home, and everything of his that I read made me fall in love with the idea of France for the first time.
And then there's Stephen Clarke. Sometimes known as the anti-Mayle, Clarke has also written novels and non-fiction about France. But his France is not quite as lovely and peaceful as the one Mayle gets to visit.
In this first novel, twenty-seven-year-old Paul West is sent from his London company to Paris to open a "British tearoom" there. In the year that he struggles with this opening, he finds himself having to deal with Franco bureaucracy, waiters with bad attitudes, a treacherous boss, and many, many French girlfriends who always seem to have the upper hand. Through painful lessons and frustrating circumstances, he finds himself caught between the Britain he loves deeply and the France he is becoming increasingly infatuated with. But who will ultimately own his heart?
A Year in the Merde is witty and ascerbic (words I stole from the cover, but that are true nonetheless), and I fell so deeply in love with Stephen Clarke's writing with this novel. It's fun and charming (those are my words), and (spoiler alert) just the first of many novels about Paul West and his French adventures. It's a great start to the series and makes for an exciting bookcation for anyone who knows what it's like to have the best laid plans go awry.